Healthy, clear skin and a thick, glossy coat are about more than just looking good. The condition of your pit bull's skin and coat is a reflection of your dog's overall health.
Causes of Canine Skin & Coat Problems
A host of internal problems from nutritional deficiencies to autoimmune disorders manifest through skin and coat ailments. That's why it's important to determine the source of skin and coat problems instead of simply treating the symptoms. Canine skin and coat disorders may be caused by:
- Dietary Deficiencies (e.g., zinc, vitamin A)
- Allergic Reactions (e.g., food allergies, contact allergies, inhalant allergies)
- Parasitic Infections (e.g., mange/mites, fleas, lice)
- Fungal Infections (e.g., ringworm, yeast overgrowth)
- Bacterial Infections (e.g., pyoderma)
- Hormonal Disorders (e.g., hypothyroidism, Cushing's disease)
- Autoimmune Disorders (e.g., Lupus erythematosus)
Supplements for Skin & Coat Health
The following supplements are beneficial for most skin and coat conditions. Problems such as flaky dry skin, brittle hair, and a sparse coat typically respond very well to supplementation and no further treatment may be necessary. For skin infections caused by bacteria, parasites, or fungi, topical treatments usually need to be added, and in the case of allergic reactions, the allergen(s) should be identified and removed from your pit bull's food/environment.
- Omega-3 Fatty Acids (DHA & EPA) - Omega-3 EFAs are important for skin and coat health. The anti-inflammatory properties will also be very helpful for dogs with allergy-related skin conditions. While some skin and coat supplements contain omega-3 fatty acids in the form of flax seed oil or ground flax seed, dogs assimilate the fatty acids in fish oil far better. If you plan to supplement with fish oil on a daily basis, it's best to choose a molecularly distilled fish oil product (Nature Made makes a good one that won't break the bank) to avoid the environmental contaminants often found in fish.
Recommended Dosage: 200-300 mg of combined DHA and EPA per 10 pounds of body weight a day, divided into two or more doses a day. Typically 1 gram of fish body oil will deliver 300 mg of combined DHA and EPA. You can start at the lower dosage and increase the amount if you see insufficient improvement after a few weeks.
- Gamma-Linolenic Acid (GLA) - Most omega-6 fatty acids are overabundant in the typical canine diet (and the typical human diet, for that matter), so the last thing we want to do is supplement them. GLA is the exception. Research indicates that GLA can relieve pruritis and seborrhea in addition to improving overall skin and coat health. Borage oil is the best source of GLA. Evening primrose oil and black currant oil are also good options. The combination of fish oil and borage oil has proven as or more effective than steroids in the treatment of canine dermatitis, without any of the side effects associated with steroid use.
Recommended Dosage: 100-200 mg of GLA per 10 pounds of body weight, divided into two or more daily doses. Typically 1 gram of borage oil will contain 240 mg GLA, so a 50-60 lb pit bull might be receiving three 1000 mg capsules a day.
- Digestive Enzymes - If your pit bull's skin and coat are not what they should be although you are feeding a quality dog food, it may be that your dog is not producing sufficient enzymes to absorb some of the nutrients in the food. Adding a digestive enzyme supplement such as ProZyme to your dog's food will provide him with the enzymes needed to break down fats, proteins, and carbohydrates, thereby improving nutrient absorption.
Recommended Dosage: See product label. Combine the enzymes with a little water to "activate" them. For best results, let your dog's food stand for 10-15 minutes after adding and activating the enzyme supplement.
- Methylsulfonylmethane (MSM) - MSM is an organic sulfur compound that plays an integral part in the production of keratin and collagen, two scleroproteins essential for maintaining healthy skin and coats. Additionally, MSM has anti-inflammatory properties that make it useful for skin conditions triggered by allergic reactions. Also promotes wound healing. To avoid potential contaminants, it's best to use OptiMSM, which is guaranteed to be 99.9% pure.
Recommended Dosage: 100-200 mg of MSM per 10 pounds of body weight. Can be divided into two daily doses.
- Cod Liver Oil - Vitamin A is essential for healthy skin, and some skin problems will respond to vitamin A supplementation even if your dog's diet is not deficient in vitamin A. Natural forms of vitamin A are best. Cod liver oil is the richest source of natural vitamin A and has the added benefit of being high in DHA and EPA. Vitamin A and vitamin D levels in cod liver oil supplements vary widely, ranging from 800 IU vitamin A per teaspoon in Carlson Cod Liver Oil to 5000 IU of vitamin A per teaspoon in Garden of Life's Olde World Icelandic Cod Liver Oil. Unprocessed cod liver oil contains about ten times as much vitamin A as vitamin D, but due to the common practice of adding (or removing) vitamin D, commercial products may have A:D ratios ranging from 2:1 to 1500:1. Both vitamin A and vitamin D are stored in the body and consuming excessive amounts for many months can cause toxicity, so don't go overboard when supplementing with cod liver oil.
Recommended Dosage: When given as a skin and coat supplement, a 50-75 lb pit bull should receive 3000 IU vitamin A daily. Since your dog most likely already gets plenty of vitamin D, look for a cod liver oil formula that supplies no more than 200 IU vitamin D for every 3000 IU vitamin A. Nordic Naturals Pet Cod Liver Oil is high in omega-3 EFAs and has most of the vitamin D removed (1 teaspoon delivers 1500 IU vitamin A and only 1 IU vitamin D).
- Zinc - The skin and coat benefits of zinc supplementation are well documented. As with vitamin A, your dog may respond to zinc supplements even if her diet is not zinc-deficient. Hair loss, redness, crusting, and scaling are common symptoms of zinc responsive dermatosis. Zinc comes in many forms. The easiest to absorb are zinc picolinate, zinc orotate, zinc histidinate, and zinc citrate. It's best to avoid zinc sulfate, which is poorly absorbed and can cause digestive upsets.
Recommended Dosage: 15-20 mg of zinc per 20 pounds of body weight, but no more than 75 mg daily. Zinc is best given with a protein-rich meal and away from other mineral supplements.
- Vitamin E-Complex - Vitamin E improves the skin and coat and speeds the healing of all types of wounds. It's also important to note that adding oils (e.g., fish body oil, cod liver oil, boage oil) to your dog's diet increases the body's need for vitamin E. A natural E-Complex supplement containing mixed tocopherols and tocotrienols is best.
Recommended Dosage: 200 IU a day for pit bulls under 40 pounds, 400 IU a day for 40-80 pound pit bulls, and 600 IU a day for pit bulls over 80 pounds. Vitamin E is best given with fats.
- Kelp - The nutritive value of kelp is unmatched among sea vegetables. Kelp is chock full of minerals, trace elements, vitamins, and amino acids that promote healthy skin and a thick, shiny coat. Kelp improves skin pigmentation and encourages proper glandular and metabolic function. This makes kelp helpful in cases of hormone-related skin disorders. Kelp also aids the body in detoxification, and it has been shown to be of benefit to dogs with allergies. Deep ocean kelp from Norwegian or Icelandic waters is generally considered to be the best.
Recommended Dosage: 1 teaspoon a day for 30-70 pound pit bulls and 2 teaspoons for dogs over 70 pounds. Works best if divided into two daily doses.
Detoxifying herbs can also be helpful for dogs with skin and coat conditions. See our article on Immune Boosters & Detoxifiers for more information.
This information is not intended as medical advice. Its intent is solely educational. Always consult your veterinarian before starting your dog on a supplement regimen.